So what I can tell you is that the style of life in Spain is pretty much a completely different experience than that of Canada. I’m going to throw in the United States of America just because. I also happen to like the US (minus a few things to obvious to mention); it’s our sister nation so I don’t want to leave it out.
Before I continue, let me just say that I’ve been assumed to be American too many a time because people here me speaking English here. Because of that, too, I’ll be including the US in this post as well.
I’d also like to say that when I’m talking about Spain in this post, it’s always going to be about Madrid the city, unless I say otherwise. I live in Madrid, so I figure it makes sense.
One thing that pretty much differentiates Spain from Canada and most American cities are the beautiful palm trees. Need I continue? I could stop right there because that’s a big difference in alone. I live in a city, a pretty big one, and there are actual palm trees here. It’s so nice to see them. I, as a “cold” Canadian, think it’s pretty cool.
Sun. Say the word out loud, nay, merely think it, and you’ll have the sun at the back of your hands for days on end. You know what the even cooler thing is? That I’m not even talking about summer. In winter there is sun for what seems forever, day after day after day. Why call the season winter even, when my cold Canadian heart knows what real winter means in Canada? You want to talk about sun in the summer in Spain? Please, brace yourself because what I’m about to say is going to make you want to drop everything in North America and come here: The sun is around for weeks, weeks, and weeks on end. What does that look like? Come 8am, say good morning to the sun and expect it to stick around until the wee hours of night. I feel like it’s 5pm, as I’m originally from Halifax, but when I look at my watch it’s actually 10:30pm Spain time. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with that picture. Let’s give it up for the Spanish dictator “_______” for doing something interesting in a positive way. You know what they about sun: less seasonal depression in Spain because we see the sun all year round. I just made that up, but it’s got to be true.
The list goes on, quite well, I may add. Stay tuned.
Palm trees and sunny days. This is the Spanish craze.
This post has been brought to you by the Chronicles of LIVES – Living in Very Entertaining Situations.
I’m a Canadian who lives in Spain. Forget about the “Canadian” part for a moment. I’m an expat who has chosen to live in a land far, far away that isn’t my home country. Are you American, Australian or from another part of the world and have always wondered why people like me leave their country of origin to go live somewhere else?
Maybe you’re that person that only travels to other countries to spend time on the beaches, a.k.a. all inclusive resorts. If you are then perhaps you’ve asked your expat friends when they’re planning on returning to their country of origin, because surely, they don’t plan on being away from “home” forever….right? “What about being close to your family?” “Raising your kids?” No? Ok, ok, well, I hope I’m wrong. One thing is someone growing up with the same friends all their life, getting married in the same town, having kids in the same town, and having the same job in the same town, but another thing is being presumptuous and expecting everyone else to do all that. There are friends who grow up in the same city and travel to places like Punta Cana and Riviera Maya, and believe that they’ve seen the country, or *cough* *cough* the world.
It could be that our expat friends who live away from their country of their upbringing call their new residence “home”. Thank goodness for the existence of diversity of thoughts because I’m an expat and do not call my country of residence “home”. I’m fortunate to be able to call both Canada AND Spain my home. What, you think that just because I’ve left my native land I don’t think of it as “home” anymore? Or just because I’m a foreigner in Spain means that I can’t call it “home”? I actually feel comfortable calling two completely different countries “home” because I’ve been lead to feel that way. Plus, it’s a complicated way of life and I like it 🙂
Maybe you have expat friends who believe that there are no such thing as borders along countries, that if they feel like living elsewhere then they will go do it.
I always wondered how expats do it. Do they just wake up one day and say that they feel like picking up their stuff and moving to a foreign country? What if they don’t even speak the language? What then?
Do expats move to be adventurous? Or because they are adventurous? If by adventurous they mean that they’ve been treated differently because they’re not from that country, or misunderstood because it’s not their native language, then I’ve been there! Like I said, my way of living is complicated but I always feel like it was worth the move.
So, what’s it like living in Spain? I’ll have to leave that topic for another time now, so feel free to stay tuned.
This post has been brought to you by the Chronicles of LIVES: Living in Very Entertaining Situations, while living abroad.
I get off the bus at the same stop as I have been the last 5 years, every Monday to Friday. As I enter a green, quaint, residential area, I see parents and children walk in the same direction, some wave at me, others smile and say hello or “Buenos dias”. My face lights up as I see all these people, children and adults alike. “What am I, a Canadian expat, doing in Madrid?” I still ask myself from time to time.
As I walk through the door, I sign my name on the sign in sheet, and make my way to my still-empty classroom. I hang up my coat and paraphernalia, wash my hands (because after taking the subway and the bus, I’ve been in contact secondhand with hundreds of people), touch up with some hand creme, take a gulp of water for a hydration boost, and I enthusiastically go back to the front entrance and start greeting students and parents walking into the school. I say “Hi” and “Hello”, and whatever else that I come up with impulsively. A kid clasps onto my hand and I guide her into her classroom. I go back to the lobby and walk another 2 year old and 3 year old, and more, to their classroom. Every time I leave them with their teacher the other toddlers try to throw themselves at me from excitement of seeing me (and me them). I instantly feel grateful for having this job.
Can you guess what I do?
No, I don’t just greet children and their parents and take the children to their classrooms (although it’s so fun doing it). That’s part of my job. I’m a language teacher for babies, toddlers and children who are short a few months of losing their first tooth. It’s an adventure every day and there’s never a dull moment.
I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life at the moment because I love what I do so much. Sure, I had other plans and ideas of what I’d imagine myself working as when I was in university, but reality doesn’t always reflect our plans. I don’t regret any of the decisions I made leading up to this day, and every day I’ve lived in Spain so far. Am I lucky? Do I deserve it? Is it fate? All I know is that I waking up looking forward to my day and going to work has had a lot to do with it. That and working really hard. But because I’m happy with my job, it makes working hard feel faint.
Sometimes what we plan doesn’t exactly pan out the way we expect, but life isn’t about planning…
I walk into a bank and request to open an account. I understand half of what the teller’s saying, partly because of the thick Spanish accent along with the lisp and the vocabulary words which are different than from what I’m used to.
I never thought in a million years that Spain Spanish could sound so different than the rest of the Spanish speaking world. My bad. My ignorance. I should have moved to Spain more prepared.
Speaking Spanish as a foreign language, as a second language all day long is a challenge in itself, but I’m also expected to change my accent and use of words to match and accommodate to those of the natives of this land because I happened to learn Spanish in Latin America. It’s not that I think Latin American Spanish is better than Spain Spanish, but after learning a whole new language from scratch over 15 years ago, it doesn’t seem too much to ask to cut me some slack, so please, consider my situation before asking me and the like to re-learn the language when all you have to do is make in a tiny bit of effort on your end.
Back to the bank teller. If I can’t understand her, it makes sense to say that she can´t understand me either. Me, throwing in foreign words into the conversation, coupled with my foreign/Latin American accent, does’t make this employee a happy camper!
If attempting to talk with a bank teller, face to face, is a challenge, then imagine me calling the bank up on the telephone. It’s like speaking to a robot. Hello, Wall-E.
These are the days of my L.I.V.E.S – Living In Very Entertaining Situations.
As an expat, I´ve been asked how I managed to find a permanent job as a teacher in Madrid. It´s tough landing a job if you´re not from any of the countries that belong to the European Union.
Many people come over from North America through an exchange program. Here´s how I did it:
I wanted to move to Spain to receive more education, so I applied to a Master´s program at a University in Spain.
After I was accepted I applied for a student visa (this was mandatory).
I realized I didn´t want to move out of Spain after I would finish my Master´s, so halfway through the program I applied to an exchange program to teach English at a private bilingual school. As I already possessed a student visa, I didn´t need to return to Canada and apply again.
My exchange program was a maximum commitment of two years. Halfway through the year, the school I worked at expressed interest and asked me to work for the them full-time after my two years would be concluded.
My residency status changed from ¨student¨ to ¨married to a Spaniard¨ because I got married at this point, so I was granted a residency permit. If I had not gotten married my school would have sponsored me to get a work visa.
A timeline of the steps goes like this:
Master´s program was 1 year long.
Teaching exchange program was 2 years long.
I was hired by the same school right after that. I´ve been teaching there for a total of 5 years so far.
While it´s usually not difficult to get accepted into an exchange program to teach, you should like teaching or have the desire to teach, otherwise, you´ll be doing something you don´t like doing.
In a follow-up to my latest post From Canada to Europe. Reflections of an expat, I wanted to share an anecdote about a cultural experience. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you weren’t sure how to act? Living in Spain, I’ve witnessed that Spanish people appreciate time spent with friends. It’s appreciated even more when you’re a foreigner and you try to include yourself in social gatherings. It shows that you care about getting to know them. In my case it hasn’t been any different. I work at a job in Spain where my co-workers appreciate it when I spend my coffee break with them, especially if they invite me. It’s almost a rule of thumb to not refuse an offer like that. “Coffee break” isn’t limited to coffee only. It’s more about drinking something or having a snack with them. To me this means that the Spanish value “people” time. Coffee breaks also provide a space for building and strengthening relationships. I’m all for that. However, I’ve come to face a small dilemma: I’m a busy body and have recently been working on several projects simultaneously (and I enjoy all of them), and so I like to take advantage of the little free time I have and work on them during my breaks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like spending time with my co-workers; it just means that I like to be efficient. This is a difference I’ve noticed between the Canadian/American culture and the Spanish culture. I’m aware that my co-workers may notice when I´m not around during our breaks, so I thought a temporary solution would be to divide my free time or coffee breaks between my co-workers and my projects. I also thought of getting more data so that I could be around my co-workers while working on my cell phone instead of having to use a computer in a separate office. I wouldn’t want to push anyone’s sensitive button! Is there anyone out there who feels like there could be a better solution? Do you agree with me? Your opinions are welcome!
Singing off –
The featured image is courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina.
I’m a Canadian expat living in Madrid, Spain. Yes, I left Canada to live in Spain, but don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of Canada. Who doesn’t enjoy the benefits of free health care? Spain has it too, though. Canada has great people, and so does Spain. Are you catching onto my point? If not – both countries are cool. Despite the similarities, they are different countries, and within that umbrella comes an array of different cultures. Sometimes the differences in the Spanish culture shine through like the sun, positively speaking, and other times it makes me ask myself if I belong here. I’m not a newcomer, so I have learned some things here and there, but there’s always room to learn more! It’s like a journey. The question of integration always pops up; it never seizes to prove its importance.
Are you an expat and have faced interesting experiences dealing with the culture of your second home? Share them please!
After acquiring your Spanish driver’s license, you now have the option of validating it. What does that mean and why would you want to do that? A validated license recognizes and respects that you already have a driver’s license from your home country. If you do not validate it, the government recognizes you as a novice driver. So, if you want to avoid excessive insurance prices when you purchase a car, or you want to rent a car within the first three years of having your new license, you must validate your Spanish license. This process can only be done after obtaining your Spanish driver´s license (going through the written and driving tests).
Step 1: You will have to contact the Canadian Embassy by email which is on its website here. The embassy is located a 2 minute walk from Begoña metro (Madrid). This link will direct you the “consular services” fees for the services I outline below. Before you email the embassy, read the rest of the steps below to see what you’re getting yourself into.
Step 2: The embassy will tell you to request a “driving abstract“, or otherwise known as a “client record abstract” from your province, which outlines your driving history. It costs 18.65 Canadian dollars. Note: Specifically request that the letter date the day, month and year that you obtained your Canadian license (not when you renewed it), because that’s the whole point of giving that letter to DGT, which is equivalent to the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Canada. DGT wants to know the day you obtained your Canadian license (the day you passed your driving test). The embassy will write up a letter for you explaining the classification of the vehicle(s) which you are permitted to drive. The embassy will need your Canadian license to attach it to the back of the letter as an annex. They will also write another letter. These two documents are for the DGT.
Step 3: The embassy will issue two letters for you: a “statuary declaration”and a “statement letter”. The former is a statuary declaration regarding your Canadian license, and the latter explains the information indicated on that license, which is the classification of the vehicles which you are permitted to drive. DGT needs to see these two letters in order to validate your license. I got away with not obtaining a client record abstract. Instead, I just gave my current Nova Scotian license (yes, the actual card and no, not a photocopy of it) to the embassy, which attached it to both its letters as an annex. My Nova Scotian license was going to expire 5 months and I was heading back to Nova Scotia the following month anyway.
Step 4: Pay around 100 Euros to the Embassy for the issuance of those two letters. Refer to the embassy website again.
Step 5: You must get both embassy-issued letters and your driver’s license (or the client record abstract), translated into Spanish, which costs around 115 Euros. The company I used has not given me the best service (that’s an understatement, service was terrible), but they work for the ministry of justice department in Spain and they got the translation done, even if it took them longer than anticipated. This is why I will not disclose the translation company name here. Working for the ministry of justice means that the translation company can officially translate legal documents and you would not need to have the translated documents certified by the ministry of justice. If you don´t understand this gibberish, it just means that it boils down to less work for you to do.
Step 6: As I mentioned earlier, the Canadian embassy initially told me that I needed to request for and receive the driving abstract in the mail from my province, which is Nova Scotia. I would have needed to take the abstract to the embassy myself and make a sworn declaration. I telephoned Access NS and they had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t know that I was really supposed to ask for a document to show my track record driving history, so they printed out something else. It was a waste of $20. Besides, someone had to go physically on my behalf and pick it up for me, send it to me (another $20 through registered mail). In the end, the document from the Registry of Motor Vehicles which had printed out for me made no sense and was a bunch of numbers all over the place. As I explained earlier, the other option is to use your current Canadian driver’s license and the Canadian embassy attaches it to the two letters it issues. This was the most convenient and economical option for me, personally. When I gave those documents, including my newly obtained Spanish driver’s license, to DGT in Spain, it was sufficient. Spain loves seeing official and authorized Canadian stamps on papers handed into them. I thought DGT would keep that license for their records, but surprise, surprise, they gave it back. There’s no way I could guarantee they would do the same to you, so be prepared to be detached (emotionally) from your license.
Here’s the “client record abstract” I requested looks like so you know NOT to ask for it:
I went to great lengths to hide my height as I touched up on it in the picture above. Aside from that, as you can see there’s not much going on in this document. It does not state the day I actually got my license. It’s very…abstract.
Step 7: Three weeks later you will receive a brand new Spanish license in the mail with the only difference being a code in tiny print on the back. When you rent or purchase a car that code is what will open up your options as opposed to the original Spanish license you received when you passed your driving test.
Step 8: Meanwhile, make the appointment with DGT online here, because it the dates are usually booked up a couple of weeks in advance. On the website, in the drop-down button choose “Madrid” as the city and in the second button click on “Renovación de premises de conducción (solo UE/EEE)”. See box below. Book the appointment.
Step 9: With the original (English) and translated documents, go to DGT, which is at this address: Calle de Arturo Soria, 125, 28043 Madrid, and fork over 25 Euros by credit or debit card only. No cash. Aside from the documents from the Embassy, you will need to show your NIE (ID card) and its photocopy and your Canadian driver’s license as well as its photocopy. In three weeks’ time you should receive your new Spanish driver’s license in the mail!
Question: Will you get your Canadian license back from DGT? I did, but there´s no guarantee that everyone will. From first and second-hand experience, the way bureaucracy works in Spain is that there is no hard and fast rule. On the contrary, it usually depends on who the person working behind the desk is. Unfortunately.
The quote below from our distinguished Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle, sums it up for me:
Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak
I wouldn’t say I have a strong soul now, and I admit, perhaps it’s a little dramatic considering that I’m talking about something as mundane as a driver’s license, but it’s more than that. It’s about putting in a whole lot of dedication, time and patience to figure it all out while running around in a big city, communicating in a language and culture that isn’t mine. It would have been less of a headache if I had steps like the ones listed above to serve as my guide. I now have a Spanish driver´s licence and its validation to show for what I went through.
Signing off –
10 steps to make the process of obtaining a Spanish driver’s licence easier for foreigners
I moved to Spain a few years ago not quite knowing my long term plan, but I thought, “Hey, why not buy a car in the future?” However, I discovered that as a Canadian, I must, within six months of having obtained residency in Spain, get a Spanish driver’s licence. I couldn’t just use my Canadian license to drive. “Isn’t that just great?”, I thought. So, like any new driver, I had to comply with all the requirements for obtaining a Spanish driver’s licence which included passing both the written test and the driving test. This permits me to legally drive in this country (and in the EU). I got motivated, somehow (thank you Groupon), approached a driving school in my neighbourhood and signed myself up (Autoescuela Gala). Driving schools are abundant throughout the country. All I had to do was sign up, read the theory and take a few driving classes around the city. It all sounds easy, especially since I have a Canadian driver’s license, right? Wrong. So wrong. That’s why I’m going to help you lessen the stress in obtaining a Spanish driver’s license.
Step 1: Choose a driving school
Walk into some driving schools in your neighbourhood. Your decision on which driving school is best suited for you should be based on customer service, meaning, the employees should treat you well and be patient with answering all your questions. After all, you will be spending a good amount of time talking with them, making sure all your questions are answered and that you’re clear on the information. They will be the ones you will deal from the time you sign up until after you pass your practical driving exam (yes, there’s more after obtaining your license which I will disclose later on). In the end, all driving schools offer the same goal: to get your license, but decent customer service will make the process less of a headache, so if you get a good feeling from the secretary, then go for that school! If it weren’t for Groupon, I would have missed out on the great customer service from the secretary of the driving school, Gala.
Step 2: Inquire about study material language options
Before registering at the driving school, I inquired about whether or not it offered the material and exams in English. English is the safest option if your level of Spanish is next to zero. Note: Whatever language you decide on will be the one you will take your written test in. My particular school offers study materials in both Spanish and English (and if I’m not mistaken, Chinese and other languages). However, the driving school themselves told me that their English materials were not a good translation of the original Spanish ones, so I took the Spanish option, and because the level of my Spanish is adequate. The English option was more expensive anyway. If you’re competent in Spanish, it’s more useful to study and take the written test in Spanish because, after all, the signs on the roads are in Spanish (ok, except for the “stop” sign).
Step 3: Manual vs. automatic
Do you know how to drive a manual transmission? If not, ask the driving school if they have an automatic car available, because most schools are limited to manual cars only. My school had one automatic vehicle which was shared between its franchises in the entire city of Madrid. If you want, you can choose to take your classes with an automatic car provided your driving school is in possession of one. It’s more expensive, though. Whichever of the two you choose will be that same physical car on d-day (when you take the driving test). WARNING: If you decide on the automatic transmission, however, your Spanish license will limit you to drive automatic cars ONLY. If you decide on the manual transmission, then you will be allowed to drive both an automatic and a manual car.
Step 4: Inquire about a virtual driving simulator
More and more driving schools are beginning to have virtual driving simulator machines . This helped me tremendously because I never drove a manual transmission car so it soothed my nerves a bit because I knew that I wouldn’t kill anyone or actually crash into something real. Furthermore, taking classes on a simulator is cheaper than driving classes in an actual car on the street. My first 10 lessons were on a simulator. By the time I began classes in a real car, I knew how to handle the clutch and stick shift more or less. It can be tricky driving with a manual for the first time in Madrid due to the quantity of drivers and each one driving according to their own rules and regulations. The simulator is not meant to substitute real life driving. Use it only at the beginning.
Step 5: Fees, fees and more fees
We’re not made of money, but it appears that we are to driving schools. Let´s face it, they are money-making businesses. Make sure you know exactly how much the registration fee and exams cost. Driving schools will make you pay for the written and driving test in advance – at the time of paying the registration fee. If you do not pass a test, you will be required to pay part of or the full price again. You will also be required to obtain a medical and psycho-technical certificate which costs between 35-50 Euros. Usually driving schools include a few driving lessons in their package, and if they don’t, then call them out on it because with high fees like that, you deserve some free driving lessons. Be prepared to invest between 700-1200 Euros in obtaining your license from start to finish.
Step 6: Avoid delaying once you’ve started studying
The time it will take you to obtain the license purely depends on you and how much time you are willing to dedicate on studying for the tests. I got the license in a span of several months because during the summer there are less tests and the driving school and the place where tests are carried out shut down in August. It could get ugly if employees don’t get their beach time. Once you’ve started studying for the written test, take the exam as soon as you feel prepared, because you still have the driving test to pass. Plus, you’ll need to remember a few things from the driver’s handbook for the driving test.
Step 7: What you need to know about the written test on the day of your test
The written test is taken on a computer in a room filled with a couple hundred people. If you consider cheating, forget it, because the people beside you will have a different version of the test. The computers are touch screen, meaning, you use your fingers to maneuver through the questions. There are 30 questions and your time limit is 30 minutes, which, if you know your material well enough, should be more than enough time to complete the test. If you get stuck, try your luck and raise your hand and ask one of the invigilators walking around to clarify a question for you. They usually have no problem with this, and they almost feel sorry for you when they notice that you’re not Spanish (from your accent), so they may be nice enough to give away a hint, discreetly. If you fail the written test, once, twice or more, don’t worry, this happens to many people. Some questions are structured to trick you, and it could be challenging even if your mother tongue is Spanish.
Step 8: Congratulations! Now, practice driving.
After you pass the written test, the next step is to prepare for and pass the driving test. I recommend on taking some driving classes in the city of Alcorcon or Móstoles, since they are where the tests take place. They’re about 30 km from the city of Madrid. You can take public transportation to get to one of your driving school franchises there. You will never be examined in the city of Madrid. Not only will it be a tad easier to practice driving in those areas because they are much smaller than Madrid, but you will get to see the roads and experience driving in the areas where the actual tests take place. For instance, the test areas (Alcorcon and Móstoles) have lots of roundabouts (rotaries and traffic circles), whereas the city of Madrid has more stop signs and traffic lights. If you fail your driving test once or multiple times, keep trying. Each examiner is different and they are infamous for their arbitrary ways of grading you, plus, it depends on their mood. Driving tests is a business in itself, so it’s to their benefit that they fail students. What’s that you say? You know how to drive and you already have a driver’s license from another country? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean anything here. So buckle up, and put your pride aside.
Step 9: Getting to the driving examination location (DGT,
Centro de examenes de Móstoles) from the city of Madrid
Don’t forget to check that you’re wearing pants before yo leave your home. It could be quite embarrassing; at least it was for me (I’m kidding – that never happened to me). I did, however, lose a heel from my boot on the morning of my exam, but luckily I had an extra pair of shoes at work (I’m not kidding about this). It popped off while I was catching the subway.
The examination centre, otherwise known as DGT, is located in Móstoles. If you’re departing from Madrid, the easiest and most straightforward mode of public transportation is to catch an intercity bus, number 522, from a bus station called Principe Pio, and your stop is called “Pistas DGT”. If you’re looking for directions on how to get there by car, then what are you doing reading this post? It’s a 20 minute bus ride. You know you’re close when the bus goes through the famous roundabout called “Plaza de Toros”. Ring the bell as soon as the bus gets on the bridge and get off at the first stop after the bridge. You have to follow a path that looks like no-man’s land. 5 minutes later you’ll arrive to the DGT building. You’ll notice a lot of parking lots. If you get lost, ask anyone where “DGT Centro de examines” is.
Step 10: What to expect during the driving exam
You will be taking the test in the same car you will have been practicing in (hopefully not more than 2 months will have passed by since you started driving classes), except that on this it will be crammed with people: the driving examiner, your instructor, and another student or two. Yes, you will witness other students’ tests. Before the examiner asks you to pop the hood and challenges you on the mechanics of the vehicle, he may ask you and the other students your preference of order. If I were you I’d pipe up and volunteer yourself, so that you can go on your merry way and have your breakfast afterward. At least that was my examiner’s way of thinking. He complained to everyone in the car that he would like nothing more than to get the test over with so that he could have his breakfast. I shuddered to think what could happen to him if he missed one of his many, many coffee breaks that morning. Poor man. Anyway, once you finish your test, the examiner will tell your instructor if you passed or failed your test. I assume they don’t tell the students themselves because they want to live to see their next coffee break in case they “have” to fail you.
Congratulations in advance for passing! You will need this motivation because even with the help above, challenges will hit your from side to side. You will be that much less richer, but at least you will have overcome a hurdle and will be able to drive legally in Spain. It’ll be a great relief. It was for me!
As I alluded to earlier, once you have your Spanish license, there’s more to be done. Stay tuned for that next time!